If you’re like most people, you’re more afraid of public speaking than you are of death.
I’m fine with death, though I’m in no rush to try it out. But there was a time that I was absolutely shit-scared of opening my yap in front of a group larger than four… maybe five at the most. And I bet that you get at least butterflies, maybe trembles, or probably the runs before making a presentation. Maybe you’ll even go to extreme lengths to avoid public speaking like I did such as faking illness, manipulating others to cover for you, and flat-out running away.
I have no idea what the psychological cause of my glossophobia was (that’s the term for the fear of public speaking), because in high school I had no problem getting up in front of my friends. When I went to post-secondary education, things changed. It was triggered in my first class with strangers where I simply had to do an around-the-room read from a script.
Coming close to my turn, all the classic phobia signs of not being in my comfort zone materialized. Pulse pounding. Trembles. Shakes. Chills. Dry throat. Gut-cramp. Then a total breakdown in confidence and wide-eyed terror – visualizing that I was about to be publicly humiliated in front of all these strangers.
I froze. The instructor tried to prompt me, but all I could muster was some pathetic excuse that I didn’t have glasses and I couldn’t read the words. The class moved along but I regressed – spiraling down to a dismal lack of self-confidence. I left the room and didn’t come back.
Five years later, after hiding from every chance of public speaking, I landed in the police academy with the same secret baggage. ‘Effective Presentation’ was part of the curriculum and I watched it approach on the syllabus with sleepless fear. I would’ve sooner stood-in for a range target than speak before thirty-one other recruits – even though they were now my friends.
I was so tense when speech-time came. I finally confided in my troop-counsellor who told me that pretty much everyone goes through this.
I thought I was the only one.
He worked with me to make a ‘Fear of Public Speaking’ presentation to the troop and it was life-changing – not just for me – but for many other rookies who suffered from the same phobia and were thinking exactly as I was.
I wasn’t the only one.
Over the years I’ve had nervous setbacks but never a humiliating loss of control, though it’s come shakingly close.
In my career as a homicide detective I’ve been on the witness stand in front of a jury and a crowded courtroom many times – once for five days straight. That’s public speaking on steroids – like being stripped naked and tied to the fountain-clock in a shopping mall. As a coroner I’ve done inquests and, as a writer, I’ve done radio and TV interviews reaching over a hundred thousand.
This afternoon, I’m doing an hour-long internet podcast on causes of death and, this September, I’m presenting the biggest in-person speech of my lifetime at the International Conference on Forensic Research and Technology in Atlanta on the evidence in the JFK Assassination. There’ll be three to four hundred in that crowd with far, far more forensic accreditations than I’ll ever have.
Am I nervous?
How will I handle it?
First of all, I’ll be myself.
That’s the number one ‘trick’ to public speaking. Just be yourself and say what you know. People inherently recognize genuineness. If you try to be someone you’re not, the audience will see right through you and you’ll bomb. Be yourself and you won’t fail.
Here’s more tips for building your public speaking confidence and effectiveness.
- Prepare – Know your material and know your audience
- Rehearse – Practice your presentation
- Believe – Know that you’ll do fine
- Re-live – Recall previous successes
- Visualize – See yourself succeeding
- Research – Again, know your material
- Engage – Start your presentation by asking something
- Humor – Don’t be too serious
- Produce – Give them a take-away to remember
- Collaborate – Bring a resource on-stage
- Prompts – Use visual aids like PowerPoint, whiteboards, and flipcharts
- Repeat – There’s nothing like experience to improve your skills
Here’s one little trick that I learned about settling the physical jitters. Pressing on your solar plexus triggers a relaxation in the central nervous system and it looks totally natural. Trust me… this works. Only don’t press too hard or you’ll knock yourself out.
What are your thoughts about public speaking? Anyone else have some tips? I’m dying to hear your words.